Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Onboarding New Employees - Part 2

Actions to take: Don't rely on the HR checklist for onboarding a new employee. Welcome the employee before their first day. Give a proper introductory tour. Plan their first week with significant involvement from the rest of the team. Have weekly check-in meetings to see how they are acclimating. 

In Part 1 of this post, we outlined some goals that a good onboarding should achieve and detailed the first component of a good onboarding, the welcome elements. In this post, we will detail the other two components: training with the team and onboarding check-in meetings.

Training with the Team:

As the boss, it is not your job to train new employees. Rather, it is your job to see that they are trained. There are benefits to having the latter mindset:

  • You no longer need to spend your career making sure you know everything your employees know. When you are the trainer, you have to be conversant in every task that you'll be teaching the new employee. That is a phenomenal inefficiency. Contrary to popular practice, bosses do not need to be and should not try to be expert in all the areas of work they supervise. 
  • Onboarding a new employee is an excellent time for your staff to work together. As you will see, this teamwork will be happening even before the new employee arrives for their first day.
  • It is also a perfect time for staff development. Here, we are talking about your current staff, who will be exercising their planning, coordination, and teaching muscles.

Your new employee will soon be part of the team. Make their onboarding a team effort. Here is a step-by-step guide to planning effective initial training sessions for your new employees:

  1. Three weeks (or however long you can) before their start date, brainstorm with your team.  Work together to break up all of the most important work into individual tasks. Come up with as many discrete chunks of training that you can. I like to shoot for trainings that would take at least 30 minutes, but no more than an hour. 
  2. Sort your brainstorm list by urgency or importance. Figure out what must be taught in the first week, what can wait until the second, and what can wait longer. 
  3. Parcel out the trainings to your staff and set an hour-by-hour schedule for the employee's first week. You can do this by having staff volunteer or by assigning the trainings based on staff expertise. When you build the schedule, don't make it back-to-back training sessions all day. Schedule time for solo work (those HR policies and training modules, for instance) and down time for them to do whatever they like.
    • Share this hour-by-hour schedule with your new employee. Ideally before their first day. Otherwise, at the beginning of the day. 
  4. Set training expectations for your current team. Make it clear that they need to spend time before the training planning out how to do it. Let them know that you will be touching base and asking how their training plan is going. These two statements alone will significantly improve the quality of the training your new employee receives. Keeping your word to follow up will improve the training further.

Planning the training this way yields all sorts of benefits. For one, it is far less work for you. Two, your team gets a new, exciting task. Three, it sets up a natural time for your new employee to work with a variety of your staff one-on-one where they have some meaningful, directed task. This will integrate them into the team much more quickly than big blocks of job shadowing.

Onboarding check-in meetings

The last key component to an effective onboarding is to do check-in meetings with your new employee. This is a simple but crucial part of your onboarding. Set a weekly meeting with your new employee for the first 4 weeks (this is separate from the weekly one-on-one). Your first meeting should be as close to the beginning of their first day as you can make it. In that first meeting, start by explaining what these meetings are and how they will work. Here are the details:

  • Open every meeting by asking your employee what questions you can answer for them. Make it clear that nothing is off limits. It is not just about the job tasks; it is about integrating into this new work environment. I use the example, "If you find out that one of your coworkers is into comic books, you can ask me if I know whether they prefer DC or Marvel." 
  • Next, ask some version of the two questions listed below. If the employee has nothing, gently probe a little bit before moving on. Make absolutely certain you are giving them chances to say what they need to say. 
    1. "What do you still need to know before you feel like you understand the job fully and completely?" The goal of this question is obvious. We are not making the assumption that we taught them what they need to know. We are giving them the opportunity to fill in gaps. As a secondary bonus, we are subtly reinforcing the idea that it is their responsibility to make sure they can do the job.
    2. "What else can we be doing to make you feel like this is your workplace, not just the place you go to work?" The previous question is about cognitively preparing your new employee for their job. This question is about emotionally preparing your new employee for their job. It's like asking a houseguest, "Is there anything else I can get you?" before heading to bed for the evening. More often than not, the question itself is all you need to do to make someone feel welcome.
  • In each meeting, finish by spending 5 to 10 minutes explaining expectations for employees under you, centered on some theme. Get into detail on the things that matter most to you, the things that are hallmarks of effective employees in your opinion. For instance, in week one, I explain what "honesty, respect, and results" means for members of my team. It may feel a little silly, like you are giving a speech. You can even joke about it. However, do not skip this step. I have received more specific, positive feedback from employees about this managerial behavior than anything else I do. People desperately crave understanding what is expected of them. (Look forward to a series of "onboarding meeting scripts" at some point in this blog.)

If you build your onboarding plan based on these three components, it will be the best onboarding most of your employees have ever experienced. You will experience far less turnover, and your employees will get up to speed on their jobs far faster. They will feel comfortable asking questions, not only to you, but to their coworkers as well. 

We started Part 1 by mentioning that HR usually has a bunch of stuff for employees to do as part of onboarding. My advice if they give you ridiculous deadlines (i.e. "to be completed on employee's first day"), ignore it and take the heat. Yes, schedule the employee to get it done in a reasonable timeframe, but those trainings are not your priority. Those trainings will not positively impact your employee's future effectiveness. Those trainings will negatively impact your employee's first impression, relative to the enormously positive impression you could be setting. 

Let's finish by reviewing the outcomes we listed in Part 1 for an effective onboarding:

  • Affirm the employee's decision to accept the job
  • Encourage employee to begin thinking of themselves as part of the team
  • Give employee clear understanding of next day's/next week's workload
  • Explicitly communicate what you expect of an employee on your team

What do you think? Will we achieve these outcomes following the plan sketched out in these two posts?

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